Ecological risk assessment to support marine spatial planning
The impacts of human activities in coastal areas, both on land and in the ocean, are pervasive in coastal ecosystems. Recent global analyses have revealed that almost no area of the world’s oceans is untouched by human impacts. A challenge to implementing integrated approaches to ocean management is knowing how to screen multiple human activities for the risk they pose to ecosystems and the benefits they provide to people. Articulating the values and risks posed by multiple human activities and the linkages among them can facilitate more honest discussion among diverse stakeholders and bring science to the resolution of conflicts among different interests. We need approaches to risk assessment that can be implemented quickly and transparently, suitable in data poor conditions and flexible to incorporate new information as it becomes available. I will present a scenario-based risk assessment framework designed to screen risk posed by human activities and identify tradeoffs among the diverse benefits provided by coastal ecosystems. I will discuss an application of the model in a participatory, stakeholder-driven marine spatial planning process in coastal British Columbia.
Communities on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia are closely tied to the ocean for their livelihoods and wellbeing; they depend heavily on coastal ecosystems for locally harvested seafood, protection from storms, recreation and cultural values. One goal of the marine spatial planning process is to identify spatial planning configurations that maximize the co-occurrence of multiple compatible human activities in any given location with the intent of maximizing the flow of benefits from the marine ecosystem to a wide range of stakeholders. Thus, risk assessment is a central tool in the planning process. We assessed the risk posed by fourteen human activities to nearshore habitats and the benefits they provide. We found that risk hotspots clustered in nearshore areas and that these risk patterns were most likely to cause unexpected tradeoffs with the coastal protection services delivered by kelp and eelgrass habitats. We found that the risk posed by human activities was not distributed equally among potential beneficiaries: many of the First Nations communities were most vulnerable. I will discuss how a participatory approach to risk assessment, including the flexibility to accommodate local knowledge, and clear documentation of rationale, facilitated confidence in the risk assessment process and uptake of the results.